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Racial Formation in the U.S.


Spend some time trying to understand what your instructor wants. For example, you may be asked to write a research paper on a particular aspect of something broader you are discussing in class. It may help to jump into a background resource to get a broad understanding of the topic again. A background resource might be an online encyclopedia of some kind.

Take notes as you read the background source. Did your brain gravitate to any particular angle on the topic? Is this something you could pursue in your paper?

After exploring the broad topic in a background resource (such as Credo), and thinking through your focus/aspect, it's a good idea to write down words to help with the search.

The table below is an example on how to brainstorm related, synonymous, and adjacent terms that might help you find great sources! The words you use access different information from different communities. 

Example research topic: gentrification (and what about it??)

Search Word Brainstorm

main words main topic: gentrification focus/angle: economics
synonyms & helpful terms

Bay Area, housing inequality, dense housing,

urban environment

scarcity, socio economic, lower class,

upper class, poverty, low income, tech

By skimming your first page of results, you will get a sense of whether your combination of search words was helpful. If there is not one single helpful result on the page, go back to your word brainstorm and replace an old search word with a new one. Here are some things to consider when looking at the results of a search: 

Magnifying Glass icon [by Freepik]

  1. Skim the initial set of results and think, "Where are my search words coming up?"
    • In the title?
    • In the subjects?
    • When you click into the item, do you see any of your search words in the abstract?
  1. Look at the page length of the items you are surfacing.
    • This is not to say that you don't want to use long items - there are some gems in there! But think about your assignment and the amount of time you have to complete it. If an item is too long to use in it's entirety (such as an entire ebook), you may be able to use a section (such as a relevant chapter within an ebook). 
  2. Can you focus your search beyond the words you put in? In some library tools, you may see some check boxes to adjust your results.
    • If you are looking for academic sources, clicking the filter for "Peer-reviewed journals" may help.
    • You may also want to adjust the date range of results. 
Resist the urge to pick ALL of your needed sources in one go!
Instead, pick a couple of sources, read them deeply, and take notes.
You can find more in your next layer of searching!


Did you read your first few sources? Really REALLY read them? Good! Your brain is probably swirling with ideas! Good ones, bad ones, annoyed ones, anxious ones.
What are you thinking about? What did you highlight the most? What is sparking interest in your brain?
  • Pay attention to what your brain is gravitating toward,
  • brainstorm some new search words, and
  • search again!

You will find results that did not come up last time, and your search words will be even more specific to your interest, and this will help you find what you need to write your paper. By giving your brain room to think deeply, you can find even more sources to include in your project, and they will help you write an amazing research paper.

Good luck! Come see us in the library should you need help. 


A process for evaluating sources...

Letter Evaluation Criteria Questions that might help you think about the criteria


How and why the source was created.

  • Why does the information exist?
  • Why was it published in this format?
  • Who is the audience?


The value of the source for your needs.

  • Is it appropriate?
  • How useful is it?
  • How detailed is it?


The reasonableness and completeness of the information.

  • Is the information presented thoroughly and professionally?
  • Do they use strong language?
  • Does the source present fact or opinion?


The accuracy and truthfulness of the information.

  • Do the authors use factual evidence?
  • What do experts say about the topic?
  • Are there errors (in spelling, grammar)?


The authority of the authors and the source.

  • Why do you trust the author?
  • Has the item been checked (editor or peer review)?


The age of the information.

  • Does it require current information, or can information be found in older sources?
  • When was the information first published?
  • Are there newer sources available?